Monday, February 10, 2014

Joseph (part 9) - The Power of Reconciliation

Today we have reached the climatic part of the story of Joseph.  Today is the day when Joseph, 22 years after his brothers threw him into that pit, reveals his identity to those same men.  Joseph's brothers had come to Egypt to get food because of the famine.  When they arrived, Joseph recognized them but they didn't recognize him.  He tested them because he wanted to see if they'd really changed.  He accused them all of being spies and kept one of them as a prisoner.  He sent the others back with instructions to return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, in order to prove their story and their innocence.

Over a course of time they were able to convince their father, Jacob, to let their little brother Benjamin return to Egypt with them.  When they got to Egypt, Joseph saw Benjamin.  He allowed them to buy more food.  He released Simeon but he then instigated one more test.  He took his silver cup, the one he personally drank out of, and had it placed in the sack of Benjamin.  He then sent his men after them and they found the cup in Benjamin's sack.  They brought them all back to Egypt.  The brothers began to talk about the evil they did to one of their other brothers.  They begin to come clean and were even willing to take Benjamin’s place as a prisoner if the Prime Minister would just allow their youngest brother to return home to their father.  Joseph continues the test saying that the cup was only found in one person's bag and that it would be that person that would be his slave forever.  That person, of course, was Benjamin. 

The brothers had the opportunity to do what they had done to Joseph 22 years earlier.  If they hadn’t changed, they could have thrown Benjamin under the bus and went back home and said, “Dad, we’re sorry but Benjamin stole from the guy.  There was nothing we could do.”  But Judah, the same guy who 22 years earlier instigated selling Joseph into slavery, stepped up to the plate.  He took responsibility and gave a passionate speech in which he says, “You don't understand.  If Benjamin doesn't go back home, my dad will die of sorrow.  Take me.  I'll take Benjamin's spot.  I'll be your slave forever.”  And at that moment Joseph knows his brothers have really changed.

This is crucial because for reconciliation to take place, two things have to happen.  Number one, there needs to be forgiveness.  Joseph has already forgiven these brothers.  Number two, there has to be repentance which we now see on the part of these ten older brothers.  As we pick up the story in Genesis 45, we now see the power of this reconciliation in the first three verses.  These are the climatic verses.  These are the ones where Joseph reveals his identity.    

“Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him and he cried out saying, have everyone go out from me.  So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it through the walls.  The household of Pharaoh heard of it.  And here's verse 3.  This is the big one.  Then Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph.  Is my father still alive?  But his brothers could not answer him for they were dismayed at his presence.”

Joseph now knows that his brothers have really changed.  Judah has proven that.  That change is paramount because it's going to be through the line of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would eventually be born.  Joseph has everyone leave the room so that he can be alone with his brothers.  This is a private matter between him and them.  He is so overtaken with emotion at their repentance that his weeping is heard all the way through the palace walls.  Finally, Joseph utters words and for the very first time these brothers hear him speak in Hebrew.  Up until now he's been speaking in Egyptian through an interpreter.  They had no clue it was Joseph.  Now, in their own native tongue, he says those unbelievable words that I'm sure these guys never thought they would ever hear.   

“I am Joseph.”

Put yourself in these guys' shoes.  22 years ago you hated your younger brother so much that you wanted to kill him.  You opted to throw him in a pit and sell him into slavery.  For 22 years you have convinced your dad that he was dead.  For 22 years you've tried to keep it behind you, to put it out of your mind.  Never thinking you'd see him again.  They were most likely convinced Joseph was dead.  It had been 22 years.  You don't make it 22 years as an Egyptian slave.  They never thought they would see him again and now, they're not only seeing him, but he's Egypt’s prime minister.  He's the guy who's been testing them. 

Can you imagine what's going through their minds? On one hand, they're shocked.  Can you also imagine the fear?  22 years ago, they wanted to kill him.  22 years ago, they mistreated him horribly.  Now he has the power of revenge.  Not only is there shock, not only is there fear, there's also guilt and shame.  What Joseph does next is amazing because Joseph now initiates the reconciliation.  He’s already forgiven them but now he's going to initiate entering back into a relationship with them.  From this we see four powerful benefits of reconciliation. 


“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come closer to me.’ and they came closer and he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:4)

The first thing Joseph says to these guys is, “Come closer to me.”  When he uttered those words, “I am Joseph,” these guys were fearful.  They backed off.  Now he says, “Come closer,” which is a word that's powerful.  It doesn't just mean come closer in proximity.  There's another Hebrew word for that.  This is a word that literally says come closer in intimacy.  I don't just want you to come closer in distance.  I want us to be intimate again.  I want to enter back into a relationship.  I want you to be able to see me up close, to know I'm really Joseph.  I want you to be able to look into my eyes and know that I have forgiven you.  I love you and I want to once again be your brother.  I want to enter back into this relationship. 

Joseph reminds them of the wrong they did.  He said, “I'm your brother who you sold into Egypt.”  He doesn't remind them of it to use it as a weapon.  He is saying, “Guys, you hurt me deeply but that's behind us now.  That's not what I'm interested in.  This isn't about vengeance.  This isn't about retaliation.  This is about us being a family once again.”  Intimacy is restored when there's reconciliation. 


Not only does reconciliation restore intimacy, In verse 5 Joseph goes on and says to them, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves.”  Isn't that an amazing statement?  Don't be grieved.  Don't be angry with yourselves because of what you did to me because God sent me before you to preserve life.  Reconciliation doesn't just restore intimacy, it removes guilt.  That's the power of reconciliation.  Joseph lets his brothers off the hook.  He says, “I've forgiven you. I want you to forgive yourselves.  I don't want you to live in guilt.  I don't want you to live in pain.  That's not why I'm revealing myself to you.”  The truth is that sometimes it's easier for us to forgive others than it is for us to forgive ourselves.  Joseph wants his brothers to understand that God was in this situation the entire time. 

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 we learn that, “Love is patient.”  The word “patient” describes someone who's been wronged, has the power to retaliate, but chooses not to.  Had these brothers wronged Joseph?  Without question they had.  Did Joseph have the power to retaliate?  Yes.  He was the second most powerful man in Egypt.  Did Joseph retaliate?  No.  Why not?  He didn’t because forgiveness never seeks retaliation.  Joseph wants them to remove the guilt.  He doesn't want them to live with that burden any longer.  He lets them off the hook.  Tell me, my friend, who today do you need to let off the hook? 


“Joseph says, ‘God sent me before you to preserve you a remnant in the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God.  And He has made me a father (advisor) to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:7-8)

Joseph wants his brothers to understand that though their actions threw him into a pit, it was God that was working through the whole thing.  God was doing something even in the midst of the horror.  God was doing something even in the midst of their evil.  That's the amazing thing about God.  Our God is so incredible, so powerful, and so awesome that there is nothing He can't use.  He can even use our mistakes.  He can even use Satan to accomplish His own purposes.  That's how amazing our God is. 

That doesn't take away the fact that these guys were wrong.  What they did 22 years earlier was horrible.  But our omniscient God, knowing these brothers were going to do this, still used it to accomplish His purpose.  Think about the story.  They take Joseph and they throw him in the pit.  Have you ever thought about the timing of the Ishmaelites who were traveling by on their way to Egypt?  Who do you think planned that?  God did!  Isn't it amazing that of all the people in Egypt that could have bought him as a slave, it was Potiphar that bought him, somebody so high up in the government?  Who do you think caused that to happen?  It was God.  Isn't it amazing that he gets thrown in the same prison at the same time that the cupbearer gets in there?  Who do you think made that happen?  It was God. 

Joseph has a vertical perspective on life.  Most of us only have a horizontal perspective.  When things come into our life that are bad, that are ugly, that are hurtful, when we get betrayed, mistreated and bruised, we can only look horizontally.  We look at how it affects us and how it messed up our life and how it's making our life difficult.  Joseph was able to look beyond that.  He was able to see that there was a vertical perspective.  He was able to see that God was at work and that He had allowed it to happen and used it so that tens of thousands of people were saved from starvation, including Joseph’s own family who would have died of starvation had Joseph not been prime minister.  What a God! 

When Paul wrote Romans 8:28 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I wonder if he had Joseph in mind when he said, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.”  He did it for Joseph and He will do the same in your life as well.  No matter what you're facing, no matter how much hurt, no matter how much despair and dismay, I need you to know that behind the scenes God is at work and often it's not until reconciliation takes place that we're able to begin to see the purpose of what God was doing all along. 


“You shall live in the land of Goshen.  And you shall be near me.  You and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have and there I will provide for you for there are still five years of famine to come and you and your house old and all that you have would be impoverished if it weren't for me.” (Genesis 45:10-11)

Joseph says to his brothers, “I'm going to take care of you.  I'm going to make sure your needs are met.  I want you to move the whole family here.  I want you to go home.  I want you to get your kids, your grand kids, and I want you to bring them here.  I want to do good to you.”

That's what forgiveness is all about.  In Ephesians 4:32 it doesn't just say we're to forgive.  It says we are to be kind and tender hearted as well.  The word kind means to be useful.  Don't just forgive, be useful.  And don't just be useful, be tender-loving.  What's the difference between kindness and tender-loving kindness?  A Sunday School teacher asked her class that question one day and a Iittle girl responded saying, “If I were hungry, and you gave me a piece of bread that would be kindness; but if you spread some jelly on that bread, that would be tender-loving kindness.  You know what Joseph's doing?  He's spreading some jelly on the bread.  He's saying, “Guys, I don't just forgive you.  I'm not just going to give you a piece of bread.  I'm going to spread some jelly on it.”  And hope is renewed. 

When reconciliation takes place, comfort happens.  First, comfort was brought to Joseph’s brothers.  The next verse says that,

“Joseph fell on his brother, Benjamin's neck and wept and Benjamin wept on his neck.  He kissed all his brothers.  He wept on them and afterward his brothers talked with him.”

There was comfort given to his brothers.  As they have this reunion they talk about those 22 years.  They most likely shared about their kids and their grandkids.  Joseph told them about his two boys, Manasseh and Ephraim.  Comfort was given to his brothers. 

But this comfort when beyond that.  In verse number 16 there's a different type of comfort. 

“Now, when the news was heard in Pharaoh's house that Joseph's brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants.”

It not only brought comfort to his brothers, this reconciliation also brought comfort to Pharaoh and to his household.  They all heard the commotion.  They all heard the crying.  Now, comfort comes to Pharaoh’s household.  Everybody wins when reconciliation takes place.  When reconciliation takes place, everyone's refreshed.  When you choose to forgive, when you reconcile, it refreshes your marriage.  It refreshes your family.  It refreshes your church.  That's what Paul said to Philemon in chapter 1:20.  He had written to Philemon saying, “Philemon, you need to forgive a runaway slave named Onesimus and if you'll forgive him, you'll refresh my heart because reconciliation brings refreshment to everyone.” 

It also brings refreshment and comfort to Jacob.  Joseph sends those brothers home with gifts and all kinds of wagons saying, “I want you to bring the whole family here.”  In fact, he tells them to leave all of their stuff behind.  He just wants them to come – to bring the family and the animals and he will take care of all of their other needs. 

In verse 24, before they leave, he tells them not to quarrel on the way home.  What would they quarrel about?  When those guys got home, what did they have to do?  They had to tell Dad that they just met Joseph.  Isn't there a problem there?  The last time they told Jacob about Joseph they convinced him that he had been killed by a wild animal.  Now they have to come clean with Jacob.  Reconciliation can never take place until you're willing to come clean with everyone you've hurt.  On the way home there would be the temptation to quarrel about the whole thing.  Joseph says, “Don't quarrel.  Don't mess up a good thing.  This is all about grace.  This is all about forgiveness.  This isn't about casting blame.  This is about our family being reunited.” 

According to the Bible Jacob's spirit is revived.  Look at the next verse.  This is powerful.  Men, this is like watching "Old Yeller."  Even you will want to cry.  Look what happens when they told Jacob all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them and when Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the Bible says,

“The spirit of their father revived.  Then Jacob said, “It's enough.  My son Joseph is still alive.  And I am going to get to see him before I die.”

For 22 years, he thought Joseph was dead.  Now he realizes that he's going to get to see him again.  What a powerful story of the benefits or reconciliation.  Reconciliation restores intimacy.  Reconciliation removes guilt.  Reconciliation reveals purpose.  Reconciliation renews hope. 

Do you realize what makes this story even more powerful?  It’s because in the Bible, Joseph is a picture of Jesus Christ.  Think about it. 

Joseph was Jacob's beloved son.  Who was Jesus?  He was God's beloved son. 

What happened to Joseph?  Those who were his very family turned on him.  They mistreated him in a horrible way.  What happened to Jesus?  He came into his own and his own knew him not.  And not only did they not receive him, not only did they not believe him, they mistreated him.  They nailed him to a cross.  It wasn't just the Jewish people of that day that nailed Jesus to the cross.  It wasn't just the Roman soldiers that drove those nails deep into his flesh.  The truth is that we nailed Him to the cross.  It was my sin that put Him there.  It was your sin that put Him there.  You and I are as guilty of hurting Jesus.

But here's the amazing truth.  The Bible teaches that if we are willing to admit that we are sinners; if we're willing to confess that our sins separates us from God; if we're willing to understand that our sin must be punished and there's nothing we can do to change it in and of ourselves; if we will come to God in faith and say, “Jesus, I believe you are exactly who You claim to be, God in the flesh.  I believe that You died on the cross for me to pay the penalty for my sin, I believe You rose from the dead, I believe that You are the only way to heaven,” The bible says that Jesus will say to us what Joseph said to his brothers.  He looks at us and He says, “Come closer! I want to reconcile with you.  I want to forgive you.  I want us to be family.”

The Bible says, “To as many as received Him, to them God gave the power to become His children.”  Through faith in Jesus our intimacy can be restored with God.  Through faith in Jesus our sins can be forgiven.  Through faith in Jesus, our guilt can be removed.  Through faith in Jesus we can find our purpose which is to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ every moment of every day.  Through faith in Jesus our hope is renewed and you and I can know for sure that we're going to heaven.  No matter what we're facing today, through faith in Jesus we can honestly say, “The best is yet to come!”    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...many tears shed reading these posts today....jackie